I’m not in a position to dispute the substance of this snide review of Hirsi Ali’s book due to the small inconvenience that I haven’t read the book that the snide review is a review of. But what I can do (and will) is point out the snideness, and the markers of same. (Now, you’ll be thinking, ‘But OB, you go in for a certain amount of mockery yourself on occasion, so do you not pause to murmur to yourself about stones and glass dwelling places?’ Fair point. Yes, I do pause, but not for long, for the simple reason that I have invincible Feelings of Superiority – I’ve been told that on very mediocre authority. No actually that’s not why my pause is briefer than that of a hummingbird; the reason is rather that there is a considerable difference between Notes and Comment and the New Statesman. I curb my mockery when writing for publication in places other than Notes and Comment. Also, frankly, I do a better job of it. Dispute me if you will.)

Snideness. Markers.

It’s obviously what I’ve been waiting for all my life: a secular crusader – armed with Enlightenment philosophy, the stamp of the liberal establishment and the promise of sexual freedom – swooping into my harem and liberating me from my “ignorant”, “uncritical”, “dishonest” and “oppressed” Muslim existence. At least that is what Ayaan Hirsi Ali thinks I’ve been waiting for.

Secular crusader, the stamp of the liberal establishment (what the hell is that? and what rock concert does it get you into?), swooping, my harem – and a very odd conjecture as to what Hirsi Ali thinks presented as a fact.

She soon became a prominent and controversial politician, a brown face made welcome by her shrill denunciations of Islam…However, the publication of The Caged Virgin couldn’t have come at a worse time for Hirsi Ali, a woman who has built her career on portraying herself as a victim.

Shrill – cf. ‘strident’. And as for the career built on self-portrayal as victim – I would have thought the career was built on a considerable amount of courage along with refusal of victimhood.

Now that doubt has been cast on the personal history Hirsi Ali relies on to give her arguments authority, her new book reads more like a whimper than a bang.

Shrill…victim…whimper. It’s all belittling stuff – and sexistly belittling at that; it’s unfortunate when women use sexist rhetoric and epithets against other women. It’s a wonder Alam doesn’t call her a bitch.

Hirsi Ali is not breaking new ground. Others, such as the controversial Fatima Mernissi and Leila Ahmed, have been here before, except their work is meatier, making reference to classical texts and engaging in important historical debates.

That’s not so much snide as, in my view, mistaken, even if it’s true. Hirsi Ali doesn’t have to be breaking new ground; she could be just publicizing existing ideas and research, for instance that of Mernissi and Ahmed; more people (at least in certain places) will read her book than will read theirs; there is a place for polemics and simply making existing material more widely known.

These brave women sadly do not have the luxuries of monetary resources, bodyguards, spin-doctors and PR agencies that she takes for granted.

That she takes for granted? Really? Does that seem likely, given Hirsi Ali’s history? She started out doing menial work in the Netherlands, after all. And as for bodyguards – she wouldn’t need them if it weren’t for the death threats, so it’s a bit much to throw them in her face.

It’s all rather nasty, and rather long on sneering and short on substance. Geoff Coupe (who alerted me to the review) has a good comment here – and he has read the book, so is in a better position to argue.

I can well imagine that if, as Hirsi Ali did, I worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and refuges for battered women, then I might see the world through a jaundiced eye, but that does not remove the reality of those observations and experiences. One chapter entitled ‘Four Women’s Lives’ gives the stage to others to tell their story. One of the strengths of Hirsi Ali’s book is that she does provide the source references to her claims – although Alam sneers that: “she provides little evidence to back up her claims that the Muslim woman is a caged virgin – sexualised, segregated, denied human rights – and that Islamic theology is responsible for this”. Really, I wonder whether we’ve actually read the same book.

Anyone want to write a review for B&W? Geoff?

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